In order to express this confidence she has based on God, not on herself, St. Thérèse uses the image in manuscript B of herself as a little bird and Jesus as the Divine Eagle. Manuscript B is dedicated to one of her sisters, Marie, in the convent. After Marie read it, she thought it was beautiful and wonderful for Thérèse but didn’t think applied to her. Thérèse says … NO you are not getting it: It applies to you too. Thérèse’s response to her sister in letter 197 is this:
“How can you ask me if it is possible for you to love God as I love him? If you understood the story of the little bird you would not have asked me this question. My virtues, or talents or many gifts are nothing. They are not what give me the unlimited confidence I feel in my heart. They are, to tell the truth, the spiritual riches that render one unjust. Because when one rests in them with complacency and when one believes that they are something great, ahh, now that’s when I really feel it is not this at all the pleases God in my little soul.
What pleases him though is that he sees me loving my littleness and my poverty. The blind hope that I have in his mercy, that’s my only treasure. Why should this treasure not be yours? Understand that to love Jesus, the weaker one is without desires for virtues, the more suited one is for the workings of this consuming and transforming love.
But we must consent to remain always poor and without strength. And this is the difficulty. Let us remain then very far from all that sparkles. Let us love our littleness. Let us love to feel nothing. Then we shall be poor in spirit and Jesus will come to look for us and he will transform us in flames of love.
She refers many times to this image – this flame of love. But to get more into the wisdom and insight of St Thérèse, I would like to look at the book Divine Mercy by Benedict the XVIth. He writes,
All of God’s perfections are expressions of his merciful love. Even his justice. (Pope Francis also says that justice and mercy are one.) After so many graces can I not sing with the psalmist ‘How good is the Lord? His mercy endures forever.’ It seems to me that if all creatures have received the same graces I received, God would be feared by nobody but would be loved to the point of folly.
Through love, not through fear, no one would ever consent to cause him any pain. I understand, however, that all souls cannot be the same. It is necessary that there be different types in order to honor each of God’s perfections in a particular way. To me he has granted his infinite mercy and through it I contemplate and adore the other divine perfections. All of these perfections appear to be resplendent with love, even his justice. And perhaps this, even more than the others, seem to me clothed in love.
What a sweet joy it is to think that God is just; that is, that he takes into account our weakness. He is perfectly aware of our fragile nature. What should I fear then? Must not the infinitely just God, who deigns to pardon the faults of the prodigal son with so much kindness, be just also towards me who am with him always?
Thérèse thinks ‘If I have always been with Him, then why wouldn’t that love be all the more overflowing?’ This understanding of God’s justice totally casts out every trace of fear in her faith before the face of God. She tries to convince us to be comfortable in the skin of our own weakness and littleness, even as she admits her own weaknesses:
I have my weaknesses also, but I will rejoice in them. A foolish thing I have said or done will torment me, for example. Then I enter into myself and I say: “Alas I’m at the same place I was at formerly. But I tell myself this with great gentleness and without any sadness. How good it is to feel one is weak and little.
She echoes the gospel according Paul: “When I am weak, then I am strong.” In so many other places, as in Ephesians Chapter 2, St Paul expresses this gospel and recognizes that we are saved not for anything that we have done but because of how good He is. Faith working itself out in love is not about earning God’s love or becoming “good enough”. It is God who is all good and it is Him who makes us capable of Himself. This is Grace by which we are healed and saved. And this is the gospel of which Thérèse is speaking but she does so with a beautiful freshness to invigorate our faith.
SOURCE: San Rafael Carmel Retreat 2016, Transcribed by Linda Dorian
Copyright 2017 Father Robert Barcelos, OCD